I’ve been celebrating lately. There have been many reasons for celebrating. I have graduated with a master’s degree and quit my job to begin work in the anti-trafficking field. Everyone is letting me know how proud they are. Everyone is congratulating me for the positive changes I am making in my life. At the same time, it’s a difficult time for me. Celebrating who I am and what I have accomplished goes directly against my instincts as a trafficking survivor.
When I was being abused and sold, I had a survival plan. My plan was to keep a low profile. I kept my “energetic footprint” as small as possible. I never made eye contact. I tried to get through the day with as little attention as possible. Attention was bad – very bad. I learned that early. This survival plan was encouraged by my perpetrators. They didn’t want me to be noticed either. They certainly didn’t want me to be noticed by the police or anyone else that may have helped me. I think this is why trafficking victims are often referred to as “invisible” victims. Trafficking is happening everywhere, but nobody sees it.
As an adult, this “skill” of mine has produced some interesting manifestations. People have literally run in to me as they are walking down an open sidewalk. I have had an unusually high number of cars nearly run me off the road because they didn’t see me. People have worked with me for years and not known my name or my role. I was the invisible woman.
After several years of recovery, I noticed that people were noticing me. I would walk down the street and people would smile and say “hello”. At first, I would look around to see who they were talking to. I am sure I looked a bit foolish. Then, I would feel the fear. There was anxiety associated with being seen. That scared little child in me was thinking, “What if the people who see me are dangerous?”
As I write about my abuse in a more public venue, the anxiety has intensified. Now I am not just visible as a person, but I am visible as a trafficking and abuse survivor. What if my abusers find out? Will they attempt revenge? Will they attempt to make good on the death threats they made thirty years ago? Anything is possible. However, if I continue to live a life of invisibility, I might as well not live. If I live that way, I am still a victim. They are still controlling me. They are still running my life.